Monday, February 14, 2011

Premature Congratulations

Sarah Firisen:

There does seem to be no doubt that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube had a significant role to play in giving a voice to the democracy-seeking citizens of Egypt & Tunisia and helping them to create a community of international supporters. If there ever is a judgement day, surely Mark Zuckerberg’s sins of inflicting Farmville and Mafia Wars on the world will be more than outweighed by the events of the last month of so.

And this makes me wonder, will people now stop saying that they don’t see the point of social media and that it’s an absurd waste of time? Of course, many of the things that people choose to spend their time doing on social media - see above comments re: Farmville and Mafia Wars - may not be the most productive things they could be doing. But, the same is true for almost everything; the fact that some people spend their time reading Harlequin romances, doesn’t negate the value of reading in general.

Whether its Second Life, Twitter, Facebook or a plethora of other offerings, there are many worthwhile, often beneficial uses of social media: disease support groups, public awareness campaigns, news feeds, educational programs, and more. Yes, there are an awful lot of videos of cats dancing on YouTube, but YouTube has also become a vital means of communication in and out of Tunisia and Egypt.

Perhaps some people spend too much time on social media; there may be a legitimate reason to worry about young people’s lack of in-person interactions with each other, and of course, there are the usual very valid concerns about privacy, viruses and spam. But can we all just finally agree that, while these concerns are legitimate and need to be discussed and addressed, social media is not a total waste of time and that it’s no longer okay to just wildly fling out the judgement that people who use it “need to get a life”?

I can only speak for myself, of course, but I feel confident in asserting that I have always been judicious and measured in my accusations of life-lacking with regards to social networking, so, sure, we can agree here. YouTwitFace™ can indeed be used in service to various worthy causes, especially when time and mass signatures are of the essence. At the same time, it's also true that social media, with all the attendant gripes about decaying social skills she mentions, is a symptom of our culture's relentless drive to increase speed for its own sake, a drive which contributes to a number of other social ills that can't be easily vanquished by an online petition. And curmudgeons like me with a particular interest in wordsmithery will always insist that the most lamentable thing about online communication flowing downhill to the sea level of social networking is the lost opportunity for people to take advantage of a text-based medium to become better at expressing their thoughts through writing. But as long as we don't completely devolve into communicating through clicks, grunts, ringtones, hoots, whistles and emoticons, I guess I can grudgingly admit that social networking isn't totally useless.

About that revolution thing, though. Like most Myrrhkins, I don't have anything pertinent or intelligent to say about developments in Tunisia and Egypt. I'm merely content to pride myself on not being one of those idiots making the achingly predictable puns on that Bangles song. (You know which one I mean. I'm not even going to say it.) However, I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb to suggest that when today's headlines are talking about a U.S.-funded military junta taking power in Egypt, suspending the constitution, and declaring martial law for the good of the people in the name of eventual (maybe) democracy, you might want to hold off on jabbing that Like button for the time being. Old-timers with some perspective can tell you that history isn't necessarily quite as enthralled with the seemingly instant results of clicktivism as you are; there's still plenty of time for blood to start flowing and wheels to start rolling backward.


  1. Brian M10:50 AM

    The question I keep coming back to is (going on endlessly about): Define THE PEOPLE (all caps). Egypt has a population of 80 million. There are scary religious nuts (Al Qaeda's philosophical home is here), go along to get along people who live for the day...heck, hundreds of thousands who live(d)quite happily as employees or factotums in Mubarak's machine. (the military's machine, now).

    What is "the people". Unless one is an avowed Marxist who believes in explicit class interests and class conscioussness... is "the government" going to "give" many of the protestors "jobs"? Admittedly, the system as it existed was corrupt and inefficent and creaky. Sometimes, though, these demands sound closer to those of the "Keep the Government Out Of My Medicare" crowd than some profound conscioussness.

  2. Brian M11:57 AM

    On the other hand, this is pretty good from Stop Me Before I Vote Again (who are avowed Marxists who do, apparantly, believe there is such a thing as "the people":

    It's a moment of some danger. I hope the Egyptians go on to manifest the people's right of unfettered public speech, public assembly, demand political amnesty, close the torture chambers and sandbox gulags, and most of all, assert by deeds the right to organize on the job and strike for living wages, decent conditions, full employment; demand food and utlities, shelter for all, occupy the vacant lots, open the storehouses on the authority of the people's right to live.

    Sure, the SCAF can clear Liberation Square. But can it make the people produce against their will? Can it demand the people go hungry and jobless as they wait for their day -- someday -- to exercise their "right " to vote in a "free and fair" election.

  3. Oh, that's easy. THE PEOPLE are the ones who want what we want, who reflect our own self-image back at us. Scrappy underdogs rising up against a tyrant for FREEDOM? They're playing our song, baby! Give THE PEOPLE what they want!

    Oh, wait -- it's a group of Muslims with no interest in becoming a consumerist suburb of America? Radicals! Usurpers! THE PEOPLE want stability under a strongman!

    Our friends on the right are especially adept at going back and forth between these perspectives, depending on what's in the news this hour. It's like watching a fast-paced tennis match.

  4. Brian M12:32 PM

    I would only respond that "the left" can do this, too.

    I still remember over at one of "those" sites recently some commentor stated that we don't need no governments, that "the international working class would arise (on its own, I assume) and take over. some way.

    Of course, once this happens, everyone in the world will have their own sparkling, shining flying pony!